Pitt's Aaron Donald leaves NFL scouts raving

INDIANAPOLIS -- Aaron Donald was keeping secret what he might run in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, telling people to tune in on the scheduled day.

There is no keeping it quiet now. Everyone is raving about what this former Pitt defensive tackle did Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Donald was officially timed at 4.68 in the 40-yard dash, a jaw-dropping time for a 285-pound lineman that might have been even more impressive than the 4.53 turned in by South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who is 20 pounds lighter.

Couple that with his 35 reps in the 225-pound bench press and Pitt's decorated defensive tackle was the star of the day at the combine, raising his draft stock and likely guaranteeing he will be a first-round draft choice.

"I'm real happy," Donald said. "This is what I've been working for for seven months. I wanted to go out and do some special things."

He did. In a big way.

Donald also gave a glimpse of his short-area acceleration when his 10-yard split was 1.59 seconds, just a hair behind Clowney (1.56), who could be the No. 1 player selected in the draft.

It was just another impressive performance by Donald, who wowed NFL coaches and general managers at the Senior Bowl with his one-on-one performances against the Division I's top offensive linemen.

"Aaron Donald making himself some money," Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said on Twitter.

"I'm a competitor; I like to try to be the best at everything I do," Donald said after the workout, shortly before flying back to Pittsburgh. "I did everything on the football field [at Pitt], I proved it more at the Senior Bowl and I racked it up here at the combine."

Donald, who played at Penn Hills High School and won the Bronko Nagurski, Outland Trophy and Lombardi awards at Pitt, said he ran a 4.83 before he began training a month ago at the Athletes Performance Institute in Tempe, Ariz. But, after working on his time at API, he said he knew he would run in the 4.6 range at the combine.

Donald interviewed with nine teams at the combine, including the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans. The Steelers didn't interview Donald because they are allowed to talk to him and other local players on the South Side.

"I feel like I can come in and make an impact right away," Donald said.

Donald said his favorite player is the defensive tackle to whom he is most compared -- Cincinnati's Geno Atkins, a two-time All-Pro who is built (6 feet 1, 303) very similar to Donald, who is 6¾, 285. But, unlike Donald, who likely has jumped into the first round with his speed and strength, Atkins lasted until the fourth round in 2010.

"I watched him at the Senior Bowl and he's a great prospect," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said of Donald. "He is along the lines of Geno Atkins in that he has the opportunity to develop into a good inside rusher. He stays on his feet and that's how you play good defense in the NFL."

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac. First Published February 24, 2014 7:06 PM

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